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Joan Vennochi

Class warfare in the Senate race

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WHAT’S NEXT? Barbra Streisand crooning “People who need people’’ at an Elizabeth Warren fundraiser?

Warren first must win the Democratic primary before she can officially take on Republican Senator Scott Brown. But liberals, near and far, are racing to embrace the Harvard law professor. The lefty-loving Streisand already contributed to the Warren campaign; so did super-liberal George Soros and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Getting an early jump on an election that is still more than a year away, a New York Times editorial rhapsodized about Warren’s appeal, and The Harvard Crimson followed up with an endorsement. Before that, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called out Brown for being “clueless’’ about women after his “Thank God’’ crack in response to a crack Warren made about paying for college without taking off her clothes.

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If Warren’s backers play to a stereotype, Brown is not immune from negative branding. Country singer Hank Williams Jr. contributed $1,000 to him back in January 2010. That’s long before Williams referred to a golf game between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner as “like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.’’ But, given the ensuing controversy, it’s not the most positive association for the senator.

Still, Brown and his barn coat couldn’t dream up a better class-warfare-based narrative than Warren pledging to seek “the hick vote.’’ Even better, he didn’t have to dream it up, because Warren offered it up during an interview with a liberal website called Left Ahead while referencing her Oklahoma roots. Ignoring Warren’s self-deprecation, Massachusetts Republicans swiftly circulated the snippet to buttress a picture of liberal elitism they didn’t have to paint themselves.

They took it a ridiculous step too far, by demanding an apology from Warren. They must have forgotten about Brown’s refusal to apologize for anything - including consultant Eric Fehrnstrom’s “Crazy Khazei’’ Twitter handle and the mysterious appearance of former Senator Elizabeth Dole’s words on Brown’s website, minus appropriate attribution.

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Early polling puts Warren in a strong position against Brown. One poll also shows that Massachusetts voters aren’t turned off by Warren’s Harvard connection. Some 21 percent of voters surveyed in a recent Western New England University poll said it makes them “more likely’’ to vote for Warren; 63 percent said it makes no difference.

The $3.15 million Warren has raised during a month-old campaign impressed political insiders, who see it as a combination of her strength and Brown’s potential vulnerability.

With his dramatic win now political history, Brown has awkward moments to explain, from his victory night declaration that daughter “Ayla’s available’’ to being duped by what turned out to be a fake photo of the dead Osama Bin Laden.

As scrutiny of Brown intensifies, it’s clear a big part of his game plan involves trying to hang two signs around Warren’s neck: liberal elitist and Washington insider. Politico reported that $17,000 in Warren contributions came via political action committees of congressional Democrats. It led Arizona Senator John McCain to send out a fundraising e-mail warning Republicans that “the Democrats are coming after Scott with everything they’ve got.’’

Warren’s campaign is Massachusetts-centric, insists campaign manager Doug Rubin.

“Calling it Washington-based is a nice storyline,’’ he said. “But the first thing Elizabeth did was to go into living rooms in Massachusetts, not D.C.’’ Rubin also pointed out that Warren’s contributors include 11,000 Massachusetts donors.

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But there is risk in having Warren appear too entitled and beholden to special liberal interest groups. The risk is that she will remind voters of Martha Coakley. While that may sound unfair and sexist, several women at a recent Warren fundraiser said they had run into resistance, especially from men, who fear a Coakley redux.

Massachusetts is currently obsessed with breaking news about beer, fried chicken, and the collapse of the Boston Red Sox. Eventually, voters will focus on politics. When they do, will they see the candidate who promises to fight for the middle class - or the candidate whose description of herself as “born on the ragged edge of the middle class’’ is already a YouTube parody?

Warren, not Washington or Hollywood, should write the script.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.